Rick Springfield
Rick Springfield

Rick Springfield is widely held up as a quintessential 1980s musician who rose to fame on the back of MTV and his role as Noah Drake on General Hospital, but did you know he had a top 20 single in the United States a decade earlier?

Springfield, who plays a "stripped-down" solo show on Saturday night (more on that later) at The Cabot in Beverly, reached No. 14 on the Billboard pop singles chart way back in 1971 with "Speak to the Sky."

Though a few other singles made it to the Hot 100 singles chart (the one from which American Top 40 culled the top 40 singles and had Casey Kasem host the weekly radio show), he didn't made it back to the top 40 until 1981's megahit "Jessie's Girl." That topped the charts, got him his only Grammy Award (1982's Best Rock Vocal Performance) and began a run of 16 top 40 singles between 1981 and 1988.

What kept Springfield busy for the bulk of the 1970s is something that probably wouldn't happen today. His follow-up studio albums to his 1972 debut Beginnings -- 1973's Comic Book Heroes and 1976's Wait for Night -- didn't make an impact here in the U.S. These days, he'd probably have been dropped from his record label.

But that didn't happen to Springfield in his native Australia or here in the U.S. and there's a reason for it. His status as a teen heartthrob (though he was in his early 20s at this point) put him on the cover of magazines like Circus Magazine and he starred in a Saturday morning animated series called Mission: Magic!


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That kept him busy for a few years before he picked up a series of guest-starring roles on primetime television series such as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Rockford Files and The Eddie Capra Mysteries in the late 1970s.

"I kept on acting even when I wasn't making music," Springfield told me last week in a phone interview about the late 1970s.

He started making career decisions based on acting, signing on to play the Noah Drake role that would define him in many ways, when the Working Class Dog album he had already recorded after signing a record deal with RCA Records came out. Nobody expected the album to do anything based on the struggles he had been having musically, which is why he took the Noah Drake role.

Then a few things happened at about the same time.

"Jessie's Girl" was the No. 1 song in America the week that MTV debuted, Aug. 1, 1981. He was already five months into his role as Noah Drake when all of a sudden, he was a crossover superstar, topping the charts musically while he appeared on network television five days a week.

Though many credit MTV with making Springfield, the fact is, he made the well-known video for "Jessie's Girl" before the channel launched.

"We went around late at night with a million cameras filming that," Springfield told me of the video.

You couldn't turn on a television, listen to the radio or pick up a magazine cover without seeing, hearing or reading about Springfield. Songs like "I've Done Everything for You," "Don't Talk to Strangers," "Affair of the Heart" and "Love Somebody" made the top 10 from 1981 to 1984 while Springfield moved from the small screen to the big screen, starring in the movie Hard to Hold.

It eventually got to be too much for Springfield and after his first son was born, he took a break from music for a decade from 1988 to 1999 to spend time with his family and deal with depression he had suffered from since he was a teenager.

"It got to be really intense," Springfield said of his dueling roles as TV heartthrob and musician. "It was hard to keep it all straight."

He started releasing music again in late 1999 and hasn't stopped for the past decade and a half. He never stopped acting, starring in several episodes of Californication, a recurring role on True Detective and alongside Meryl Streep in last year's Ricki and the Flash. Oh, and his 2010 autobiography Late, Late at Night: a Memoir peaked at No. 13 on The New York Times best seller list and earned a spot on the Rolling Stone list of the top 25 rock memoirs of all time in 2012.

Springfield is thankful for his lengthy career, noting that the recent deaths of not only iconic musicians such as Prince and David Bowie, but lesser-known (in America) peers of his in Australia have also passed in recent years.

"It's definitely given me a chance to take stock of where I am," he said.

The stripped-down show is billed as "an intimate, solo performance with interactive media and storytelling." Springfield told me he loves the stripped-down shows because they give him a chance to relax, tell stories about the songs, and let the audience know a little bit more about him and his music.

Rick Springfield Stripped Down takes place on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 8 p.m., at The Cabot in Beverly. Tickets are $77.50 and $57.50 and available at www.thecabot.org.